By the end of the year, Ponoka will be four doctors short.
And a promising recruit to help fill the void has just backed out due to disharmony between Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta’s doctors, says a local family physician.
Dr. Greg Sawisky said Battle River Medical Clinic just received notice that Dr. Richard Elloway, of Florida, who did his undergraduate degree at Burman University in Lacombe, changed his mind about practising in Alberta.
“He was keenly interested in coming back. After learning more about Mr. Shandro’s fractious relationship with Alberta doctors, he decided not to make that move,” Sawisky said.
“If we can’t recruit a doctor with a connection to rural Alberta, who else is going to come? The only way to get doctors into rural Alberta is if they have some kind of connection to the area.
“They grew up there, or trained there, or their family is able to live and work there.”
He said the Ponoka clinic currently has eight doctors, and could really use another five since it also serves Maskwacis.
“We need to have enough family doctors to go around. Patients who lost a family doctor will either have to drive further to find an alternative family doctor, or they’ll have to go to a walk-in clinic.
“Or they’ll just not see doctors, which is the worst of all three.”
Driving around central Alberta in the winter for necessary medical care also comes with its own risks, he added.
One Ponoka doctor retired last December. One doctor left in June to pursue more training. Another doctor is moving for personal reasons by the end of this year, and one moved to Ontario at the end of August as a result of how the provincial government is treating doctors, said Sawisky.
He said doctors have a lack of trust in the government, and the huge layoffs announced this week for Alberta Health Services staff makes recruitment even more difficult.
“Why would anyone want to come to a health system in disarray? Why would anyone sign up to work in a system that is in complete turmoil?”
Recently, the health minister released statistics showing for the first time in Alberta’s history, more than 11,000 doctors were registered to practise in the province.
“This report shows that doctors continue to choose to live and practise in Alberta in impressive numbers – and for good reason. Alberta pays more than any other province, has lower taxes, and now has the most attractive compensation package available for rural and remote doctors in Canada,” said Shandro in a statement.
But Sawisky said using statistics from the third quarter is misleading, because it always includes new medical school graduates.
“It’s just pure registration. It doesn’t mean a doctor has boots on the ground and is actually seeing patients. Some doctors have moved away and just are maintaining the licence to be able to come back and perhaps work a weekend a month, which doesn’t do the day-to-day medicine needs of this province any good.”
He said the government’s plans to offer digital solutions to connect doctors and patients doesn’t help women in labour, dying patients, or the increasing needs of an aging population.
“No app is going to replace the doctor.”